Engaging the Word: Readings for 11/9/14 (22nd Sunday after Pentecost)

By Barbara Klugh

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In our readings for this coming weekend, Joshua renews the covenant, Paul writes about the Rapture, and Jesus tells us to be prepared.

Joshua Renewing the Covenant with Israel, Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (1907). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Joshua Renewing the Covenant with Israel, Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (1907). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua: Our reading this week is about the renewal of the covenant. The people have conquered the Promised Land; Joshua apportioned the land among the tribes. Now, as he is nearing death, Joshua gathers all the tribes at Shechem for his farewell speech. He reminds the people to obey and serve the Lord, the God of their ancestors. Because of all the Lord has done, Joshua says, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” The Israelites must choose whether they will worship the Lord or worship the local gods, and Joshua tells where his loyalty lies: “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The people promised to serve the Lord. Joshua tells the people put away the symbols and statues of foreign gods and “incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Then Joshua made a covenant with the people and made statutes and ordinances for them.

Psalm: This week’s psalm is one of a collection attributed to Asaph. Asaph may have been the author, a transcriber, or one of David’s musicians. It’s possible that the collection is from the Asaphites, a common name used to identify temple singers, or another possibility is that they came from members of a guild who wrote in the style of Asaph. (Wouldn’t it be fun to be a biblical detective?) The psalm is subtitled “A Maskil of Asaph.” Depending on whose comments you read, the term Maskil means that the psalm imparts wisdom because Maskil means “enlightened” or “wise.” Others say the term is of uncertain origin and leave it at that. In any case, Psalm 78 is the second longest psalm in the Bible and is used at major festivals.

The psalm recounts Israel’s repeated rebellion and God’s mighty acts from the time of the desert wanderings through the reign of King David. Our selection is the first seven verses, which tells that the psalm was written down so that generations to come may learn from Israel’s past actions and “the praiseworthy deeds and power of the Lord, and the wonderful works he has done.”

Window at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC, by Cadetgray. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Window at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC, by Cadetgray. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Thessalonians: Paul startles my modern mind in this week’s reading. He’s writing about the Rapture. The Thessalonians were worried about what will happen to their loved ones who die before Christ’s return. Paul wants to assure his brothers and sisters that they need not grieve as non-believers do, who think their loved ones have fallen into the great abyss of nothingness. For since Jesus died and rose again, God’s plan is that the believers who already died, will be the first ones to rise with Jesus. “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

This passage will be fascinating to talk about at the Wednesday service. I’m agnostic on this vision of Paul’s, but what do I know? I’m more at ease with the words from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 14:8. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” I sure do like the idea of meeting Jesus in the air, though.

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, by William Blake (1757 - 1827). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, by William Blake (1757 – 1827). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew: In this week’s reading, Jesus deals with the need to be prepared, and tells a parable. There are ten bridesmaids—five are foolish, who don’t bring along extra lamp oil, and five are wise because they took flasks with extra oil. The bridegroom was delayed, and they all fell asleep. At midnight, they heard a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The foolish bridesmaids asked the wise ones for some of their oil, but the wise women said no, because there’s not enough oil for all. They told the foolish ones to go to the dealers and buy some. While the foolish bridesmaids were out, the bridegroom came and the door was shut. Later, the foolish bridesmaids came back with fresh oil and asked for the door to be opened. “But he replied, `Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

One commentary said the parable represents the two kinds of people God calls. Some respond with good sense and others expect God to satisfy their every need, almost like they think it’s good enough, merely to be invited.

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